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Genetics of Skin Cancer (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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Family history of squamous cell carcinoma or associated premalignant lesions

Although the literature is scant on this subject, a family history of SCC may increase the risk of SCC in first-degree relatives (FDRs). Review of the Swedish Family Center Database showed that individuals with at least one sibling or parent affected with SCC, in situ SCC (Bowen disease), or actinic keratosis had a twofold to threefold increased risk of invasive and in situ SCC relative to the general population.[50,51] Increased number of tumors in parents was associated with increased risk to the offspring. Of note, diagnosis of the proband at an earlier age was not consistently associated with a trend of increased incidence of SCC in the FDR, as would be expected in most hereditary syndromes because of germline mutations. Further analysis of the Swedish population-based data estimates genetic risk effects of 8% and familial shared-environmental effects of 18%.[52] Thus, shared environmental and behavioral factors likely account for some of the observed familial clustering of SCC.

Syndromes and Genes Associated with a Predisposition for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Major genes have been defined elsewhere in this summary as genes that are necessary and sufficient for disease, with important mutations of the gene as causal. The disorders resulting from single-gene mutations within families lead to a very high risk of disease and are relatively rare. The influence of the environment on the development of disease in individuals with these single-gene disorders is often very difficult to determine because of the rarity of the genetic mutation.

Identification of a strong environmental risk factor—chronic exposure to UV radiation—makes it difficult to apply genetic causation for SCC of the skin. Although the risk of UV exposure is well known, quantifying its attributable risk to cancer development has proven challenging. In addition, ascertainment of SCC of the skin cases is not always straightforward. Many registries and other epidemiologic studies do not fully assess the incidence of SCC of the skin owing to: (1) the common practice of treating lesions suspicious for SCC without a diagnostic biopsy, and (2) the relatively low potential for metastasis. Moreover, nonmelanoma skin cancer is routinely excluded from the major cancer registries such as the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registry.

With these considerations in mind, the discussion below will address genes associated with disorders that have an increased incidence of skin cancer.

Xeroderma pigmentosum

Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is a hereditary disorder of nucleotide excision repair that results in cutaneous malignancies in the first decade of life. Affected individuals have an increased sensitivity to sunlight, resulting in a markedly increased risk of SCCs, BCCs, and melanomas. One report found that nonmelanoma skin cancer was increased 150-fold in individuals with XP; for those younger than 20 years, the prevalence was almost 5,000 times what would be expected in the general population.[53]

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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